The 145th Belmont Stakes is inching closer, and the final leg of the Triple Crown promises to be exhilarating despite the dashed hopes of an individual winner of horse racing's ultimate prize.
Kentucky Derby winner Orb was hoping to be the first Triple Crown Winner since Affirmed in 1978, but his bid was thwarted at the Preakness thanks to a wire-to-wire victory for Oxbow at Pimlico Race course.
Those two champions, along with Revolutionary—who finished in third at Churchill Downs—have emerged as the early favorites in the Run for the Carnations at Belmont Park.
Below is a closer look at the trio of top contenders and how they figure to fare on June 8, based on the odds provided by expert Mike Watchmaker of The Daily Racing Form.
Note: Race history and other statistics, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of Equibase.com.
The good news about Orb's magnificent finish at Churchill Downs is that he was able to stay within striking distance despite the extremely quick early pace set by Palace Malice.
Jockey Joel Rosario knows how to handle Orb, but was the victim of a slower pace and traffic problems in Baltimore, which caused Orb to come in a disappointing fourth in his efforts to win the Middle Jewel.
As long as Orb is not pinned with the No. 1 post position as he was in the Preakness, he should have as good a chance as anyone—hence his current status as the odds-on favorite.
Although Orb's status for the Belmont is still somewhat up in the air, he has been working out well, and barring a setback in Sunday's work, trainer Shug McGaughey will upgrade him to a definite entry, per HRTV on Twitter:
Shug McGaughey said Orb remains probable for Belmont. Status will be updated to definite if Shug is pleased with Sunday's work.— HRTV (@HRTVinsider) May 30, 2013
There isn't a horse in the field that boasts Orb's combination of size and speed, which bodes well for the longest Triple Crown track at 1.5 miles. However, a second marquee triumph won't quite be in the cards.
If this line doesn't change much from Watchmaker's projection, it would be a bargain to wager on Revolutionary as the Belmont winner.
WinStar Farm confirmed that Javier Castellano will get the mount in Elmont, New York, which gives trainer Todd Pletcher's best of five entries another big name in the saddle:
We're excited that Javier Castellano will be aboard Revolutionary in the Belmont. There aren't many jockeys who... http://t.co/7keQ1VoGBO— WinStar Farm (@WinStarFarm) May 23, 2013
Castellano was second in jockey earnings in 2012 and is in the same position behind Rosario thus far this season. That success was preceded by a runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes in 2011 when he was aboard Stay Thirsty, which shows he knows how to work this arduous, difficult track.
Revolutionary beat out Mylute and Departing to win the Grade II Louisiana Derby, and showed that he can flourish at the finish in his thrilling charge at the Grade III Withers Stakes before then.
If there is any one horse that has the resume, stamina and explosive burst down the final stretch to take down Orb or Oxbow, it's Revolutionary. I believe that's precisely what will happen in a photo finish with Orb.
Who do you believe will fare best at the Belmont Stakes?
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens is among the surest bets in the field, yet there is reason to believe that Oxbow isn't quite cut out for this venue.
The length of the track is going to be a significant factor. Oxbow showcased his steady swiftness in winning at Pimlico, which indicated that Stevens has a feel for how to properly pace his horse. Having said that, the Preakness is more suited for sprinters like Oxbow to thrive.
Oxbow proved he can maintain a relatively quick speed in 9.5 furlongs. It's an entirely different matter as to whether he can over the course of 12.
Especially if the track winds up being sloppy, it could be a disappointing run for the less sizable colt. One encouraging sign, though, is that Oxbow did some strong work in Thursday's workout, as documented by Darren Rogers of Churchill Downs PR:
Oxbow breezed 6F in 1:14.60 from the 5 1/2 F pole. 24.20, 35.80, 47.60, 1:00.60. Out 7F 1:29.40 #Belmont— Churchill Downs PR (@DerbyMedia) May 30, 2013
That pace would be enough to put Oxbow in the winner's circle, but it would be unsustainable over the entire 1.5 miles and in the heat of competition.
Expect Oxbow to be in contention entering the final turn and then fade just outside the top three as Orb, Revolutionary and a dark horse—perhaps Freedom Child—surge past.
Prediction: Fourth place